I held my Kentucky Kitchen table in my hometown of Prospect, KY on March 9th, 2019. It was held at my parents home. While having family dinners are fairly standard for my family, this one was quite different- we almost never discuss anything deeper than the events of the day. In order to have a successful and engaging discussion, it is imperative to have greater diversity than that of a nuclear family- diversity in this group was promoted by a variety of ages, social classes, and experiences.
My dinner was attended by 6 people. My mother, Bethany, is 49, works as an ultrasound technician, and is originally from Cleveland, Ohio. She works to support our family and spends significant portions of her time helping at local charities. Lucas is 20, works as a parks guide, and resides in Goshen, Kentucky. He hopes to one day work at a national park and have a family. Meghan is 19, an elementary education student at Western Kentucky University, and from Sellersburg, Indiana. She comes from a higher class family and hopes to one day be able to support children’s love of learning. Alec is 19, a business student at Western Kentucky University, and is from Prospect, Kentucky. He comes from a lower class family, and aims to be able to support himself. Katie is 16, a student at Oldham county schools, and aims to be a biologist. Last but not least, I was there, and am a 19 year old psychology student at Western Kentucky University from Prospect, KY. I brought variety to the table from my experience of growing up in a broken family, with myself being the only one I could depend on consistently. Although we are all from the same region, I invited this group to dinner because of the wide variety of experiences, political opinions, and values that the group holds.
The conversation began with me asking “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” To my surprise, there was a fast agreement that to be a good citizen, one must be morally driven and supportive of others. As Bethany said, “There is no point in having a social organization if we don’t really care what others are saying.” This point well sums up what the group believes- that if we support no one, then no one will support us. This agreement, though gloomy, gave me some sort of hope for a society in which we can rely upon others being “good Samaritans”.
The conversation began to get interesting when I asked the question “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Unlike the previous discussion, I got a variety of answers. Myself, I care the most about reproductive rights and sexual health. This is a topic that I have always been interested in and believe should be talked about more, taught in schools, and protected by the law. I received several questions about my answer- Lucas asked me why it was so important if it doesn’t have a pressing influence on my life. I believe that this rhetoric revealed a lot about both of our personalities- while I tend to look towards the big picture, or the universal impacts of an issue, Lucas tends to care more about what impacts the local community. Alec and Lucas both said that they are most concerned about the environment. This surprised me, as they both hold conservative viewpoints in almost every other social issue. They both said that this issue is closest to their hearts because of how it will impact the human race for the future generations to come. Bethany said that education issues mean the most to her- having four children that had grown up in public schools, while good ones, she has hated seeing Kentucky public education being threatened. She specifically referenced several bills currently going through the Kentucky state House of Representatives and Senate that will redirect funds from public to private education, as well as transportation of children to and from school in rural areas.
It was at this point in the conversation that we began to discuss how we can make a change regarding these issues- rather than merely sitting by and letting these social issues take their course, almost all of us agreed that we have a duty as citizens to make an effort to change, both as individuals and as a society. There was one dissenting opinion- regarding climate change, Alec believes that we have surpassed the point of no return. In his word, “If there’s no going back, shouldn’t we just live it up?” This point was met with disagreement from the rest of us attending. There was a general agreement that our responsibility goes beyond voting for those we hope will represent our best interests. A specific example given was by Katie, who believes that peaceful political action is the best way to have our voices heard. She gave the example of teacher strikes in our district, who effectively demonstrated their support of public education. Another opinion was voiced by Meghan, who believed that making personal changes are not enough- similar to the opinion voiced by Michael Pollan, author of Why Bother?, Meghan believes that the most of the responsibility for solving social issues belongs to those that cause them, and in most cases they are corporations and big businesses. All of the individuals at the dinner had some sort of big picture idea of how the issues we care about can be solved most effectively.
Besides the actual content of the discussions had during the dinner, I had a much larger realization- these people, that I thought I knew at least decently well, had a significant amount of opinions that surprised me. I think that this point well sums up one of the biggest problems in society and democracy- we spend so much time making assumptions about others that we don’t put any effort to genuinely understanding others values and opinions. As I reflect on my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I believe that although we all have our different opinions and beliefs in what are the most important issues, we all recognize our duty as citizens to be involved. Talking more openly about our opinions is a crucial first step to progressing as a nation and being able to have more of a say in our lives.